5 Weird Ways Conflict Is Actually Your Best Friend
Conflict is the Universe’s way of throwing cold water on your face.
When we need to be more present, grow compassion, enlarge our sense of connection with others or generally step up our game, the world puts an obstacle in front of us to trip on. This obstacle comes in familiar forms – a controlling boss, an irritating neighbor, a partner we continually fight with. We reflexively assume that the other person is the cause of the problem and look to either distance ourselves from the source (avoidance) or win the battle (competing). With either of these approaches, we miss out on the juicy lessons conflict offers.
The first Noble Truth of Buddha is that life is suffering.
The second Noble Truth is that the origin of suffering is an attachment.
Conflict shows us what we’re attached to: money, a picture of our own future, a relationship that makes us feel whole, or being seen as right or in some way better than the other person. We’re often attached to an ideal future that we believe will bring us relief. Choosing to focus on the root of the attachment rather than the person who triggered our conflict allows us to mine it for information about our deepest desires and deepest fears.
For example, a recent client was embroiled in a high-stakes legal drama with her former husband over who has the right to make major decisions for their child. They went back and forth about which school their daughter should attend, choosing the “right” doctor, and where she would spend Christmas morning. Eventually, the mother came to realize the attachment at the core of this conflict was her desire to be the “real” parent – the one their daughter would lean on throughout her life for guidance. Once she identified this, she recognized the desire had outlived its usefulness in her life and she was ready to share parenting responsibilities with the father.
The key to finding these truths about ourselves is working through the conflict with our eyes and ears open. Below are 5 gifts that consciously transforming conflict offers us if we’re ready to get schooled.
SEE ALSO: 6 Ways Meditation Can Improve Your Life
1. Learning to Listen
Every person wants to be seen and accepted. Having someone bear witness to our pain relieves us from some of the burden by reminding us we are connected. We are not alone in our imperfections. We are part of a human family of flawed, striving creatures. Engaging in deep listening not only reduces the tension but restores us to the present moment and reminds us of the interconnectedness of us all.
“People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” – Brene Brown
2. Learning the Path of Compassion
It’s easy enough to experience compassion for a loved one or even a stranger on the street, but the big work is finding compassion for the person who causes us pain. Contemplating another person’s perspective and how it came to be, grows this compassion in us. Allowing it to exist without fighting against it or pushing to get our way requires deep compassion.
3. Learning to Become Authors of Our Own Life Story
Although we can’t change reality, we have complete control to change the story that we tell. That alone gives us all the agency we need. When we’re in conflict, we typically tell ourselves – and anyone who cares to listen – a story of being wronged. This victim story is like an eddy in the river. We spin round and round waiting to be drawn back into the stream. To propel ourselves out, we must create a new story that reframes the past conflict as a shared responsibility and reframes the future outcome as a lasting solution for both parties.
4. Moving Beyond Dualistic Thinking
Dualistic thinking is our go-to reaction to conflict. We immediately look to determine who is right and who is wrong, who is a victim and who is a perpetrator. Dualistic thinking foments judgment and separation and it positions us to argue and divide into Us and Them. But the whole picture is never so simple. When we listen to another’s story without judgment or attachment to our own interpretation, we expand our ability to hold the both/and of paradox gently in our hearts. Our truth is just one truth of many possible truths.
5. Learning to Let Go
At the end of the day, we have to let go of perceptions, patterns, and behaviors that no longer serve us. When we let go of egoic cravings for money, respect, esteem from others, or the belief that something outside of ourselves will make us happier than we currently are, we are freed from that suffering. When we let go of our aversions, our fears of shame, poverty, invisibility, and loneliness, we are released from the conflict and gain the lesson it came into our lives to learn.
“Where something becomes extremely difficult and unbearable, there we also stand already quite near its transformation.” –Rainer Maria Rilke
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